President Davis Pushes for Mental Health Policy Reform

Written by Haley Horn, Contributor

On October 10th, individuals all around the world celebrated World Mental Health Day. According to the World Health Organization’s website, “the overall objective” of the holiday is to “raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilize efforts in support of mental health.” Many individuals took to social media to share their journeys with mental health and show support for those individuals who are currently suffering, encouraging them to reach out and seek help from available resources. 

As society increasingly focuses on the importance of mental health, the government has also started to make it a priority. On June 25th of this year, Furman  alumnus and contributor David Trone ‘77, Representative of Maryland’s 6th congressional district, introduced the Higher Education Mental Health Act of 2019 (H.R. 3489) which “seeks to address the growing number of students in higher education with mental health concerns,” according to an official press release by Congressman Trone’s office. In practice, the bill requires the commencement of a national study on the “mental health concerns of students at institutions of higher education”  to examine the quality and quantity of resources available to students during their time in higher education. 

In turn, President Davis has been vocal about making mental health in higher education a priority. Davis wrote a letter to Trone in support of the bill urging the Congressman “to advance this important legislation that would have a positive impact on our students, institutions, and communities.” Davis has since helped Trone to obtain signatures of support from 215 university and college presidents, vice presidents, and administrators. 

On-campus, the discussion surrounding mental health resources is not so clear cut. Although Dr. Baez praised Furman’s unique “Stepped Care” model of mental health services, established in the spring of 2017 to improve mental health care on campus, some students doubt whether Furman’s comprehensive policy is being carried out effectively in practice. According to the University’s website, the Stepped Care model includes “rapid access, assessment, treatment options (depending on student severity and level of autonomy), group counseling, e-technology services (WellTrack), psychiatric and nutritionist services, as well as case management with community referrals.” In other words, the model is meant to “to serve more students sooner and step up or step down treatment based on needs.” 

Furman junior Britney Plumley’s experience, however, does not live up to the promise of Furman’s policy. For example, Plumley cited a lack in the number of counselors available in the counseling center as a serious problem, saying that in her times of need, the “next available appointment wasn’t for another two months.” Additionally, Plumley emphasized the need for more qualified counselors and called upon the major decision-makers at Furman “to vocalize to students the importance of mental health days” and communicate the overall importance of mental health. 

In sum, it seems that Furman’s policy and practice may not be on the same page. Nonetheless, given its public efforts to advocate for mental health reform in higher education, it is clear that Furman’s administration is aiming to tackle remaining needs for improvement. Moving forward, all parties involved are hopeful that—with growing support from school systems all over the country—H.R. 3489 will pass and be monumental in raising awareness and targeting the failures of higher education in combating mental health. 

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